Hey guys! Chapter 2! I took a few creative liberties obviously but I hope that you all like it so far. Please comment and give back any criticisms or feedback that you'd like to see in the story. :p
The hot sun blazed down on Rusty's shoulders, causing him to sweat profusely through his dirty rag of a shirt. He dropped the sack of oats he was carrying into the large wooden cart in front of him and then turned on his heel to fetch another. All around him, his companions were performing the same monotonous and mundane acts. The slave drivers walked slowly between the lines of dark haired prisoners, menacingly waving their whips every few steps. Rusty hadn't yet been born when the dark-skinned slave traders first came to the Outland Valley, but he and his people had been forced into slavery for the men every since Rusty could remember.
Rusty pushed his bright red hair out his eyes; the same hair that made him stand out so painfully from the rest of his tribe. Out of the hundreds of people that made up Rusty's clan, he was the only one with red hair and green eyes; all of the others were born with dark hair and even darker eyes. It bothered Rusty, not because he was afraid of being different. In fact, his looks made him feel special as if he were descended from some ancient and wealthy race. What bothered him was that his unique features made him a prime target for torture from the slave drivers.
Rusty was torn from his reverie as his only close friend, Smudge—so named for the birthmark that was 'smudged' across his right cheek-bumped into him, sending him stumbling into a pile of oat bags.
"Wake up Rusty," Smudge hissed brushing his brown bangs out of his eyes. "You know Talmud has been waiting for a chance to send you to the gallows for a day."
Rusty flinched, Talmud was one of the head slave traders and had harbored a grudge against Rusty ever since the young boy had tripped while working and knocked Talmud into a large mud puddle.
He quickly shouldered another oat bag and hurried to catch up to Smudge, who was slowly trudging towards the loading cart, "I had a dream last night."
Smudge looked at him oddly but said nothing.
"I dreamed I was a forest warrior," Rusty added and this time Smudge whirled to look at him.
"What? What are you thinking dreaming of things like that? Those men are savages!" Smudge hissed.
"They're not savages!" Rusty protested. "They're heroes. They're noble and they fight for freedom!"
Smudge glanced around warily and pulled Rusty close to whisper in his ear, "Those kinds of comments are dangerous Rusty. The warriors are supposed to be masters of war and dark magic, besides they live like animals in the forest."
"Seems to me anything would better than living in this stinking sandpit," Rusty spat gesturing to the dead land that spread out for miles around them. "But in the forest….That's freedom."
Smudge looked towards the North end of the valley where there was a distant green haze of forest, "Just…Just be careful no one hears you talking about it."
"I won't," Rusty assured him, a gleam in his emerald eyes. "Because I'm going there."
"What?" Smudge shouted.
"Shhh…"Rusty pulled Smudge behind a large loading cart, ignoring the lead horses as they snorted nervously at the two boys. "I'm going Smudge; I can't spend the rest of my life as a slave. I want to be free."
"They'll eat you alive Rusty," Smudge said, his dark eyes wide with fear.
Rusty shook his head, "Smudge, I've made up my mind. I'm leaving tonight."
Smudge looked at the ground and fell silent. Rusty stood and brushed himself off, "You won't tell anyone will you?"
Smudge stood and met his gaze, "If this is your choice Rusty, you have my word. I won't tell a soul. But I'll miss you."
Rusty balked as he understood that his friend's sadness was for him, "I'll never forget you Smudge. You've been my best friend."
He stuck out his hand and met Smudge's brown eyes with a smile; Smudge finally took his hand and returned the grin. "Now, let's get back to work."
The full-moon shone brightly the night Rusty escaped, as if the sky itself were lighting his way. Rusty had risen from his cot and escaped the sleeping quarters without any difficulty. Now he stood at the edge of the labor camp and gazed longingly towards the northern forest. It was so far in the distance that at times the green trees seemed to disappear into the darkness of the night. But Rusty had a plan.
The camps were never guarded at night because the guards never expected anyone to brave the dead earth and hot, heavy winds of the Badlands in order to escape. But tonight, Rusty would do the impossible. He would brave the desert alone.
Rusty snuck along the edge of the campsite until he reached the mule corral. The creatures whinnied nervously as he approached and Rusty paused, waiting for them to become accustomed to his presence. He carefully opened the corral gate and led a particularly hardy looking mule out of the pen. He quickly mounted the creature and kicked his heels into its side. It whinnied indignantly, but started loping forward nonetheless. Rusty grinned, he was on his way.
It was sun high the next day by the time Rusty reached the edges of the forest. He pulled his mule to a halt and looked upward, trying to spot the very tops of the towering pines. He slowly slipped off of his mount and placed one dirty foot on the cool, springy grass that coated the earth beneath him. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the fresh, clean air that was riddled with the scents of growing things. Without looking back even once, Rusty grinned and dashed into the forest.
The emerald ferns and trailing branches of the towering trees immediately formed a solid roof over Rusty's head. The blaring sun had lost its edge and instead shone gently through the dappled leaves. He was so distracted by the lush forest that he didn't notice the dark, lithe figure that was slowly creeping up behind him. Suddenly Rusty stopped. He strained his ears, painfully aware of how still the forest had become. There was a snap of wood behind him and he whirled around just in time to see a young boy leap from the bushes, a sharpened piece of wood raised high above his head.
Rusty fell backwards as the boy barreled into him and they rolled, tussling fiercely on the lush grass. Rusty shoved the boy away and sprang to his feet, searching desperately for something to defend himself. But the boy did not hesitate and slashed his makeshift weapon across Rusty's chest, tearing a gaping hole in his shirt. Rusty hissed with pain as he felt blood well from his wound. In a flash of rage he leapt forward, no weapon in his hand, and tackled into his adversary's midsection, sending them both crashing to the ground. But before he could get a good grip on the boy, he slipped out of Rusty's grasp and sprang to his feet, pacing in front of Rusty slowly.
"Hey there kid," the boy said suddenly, all signs of aggression vanishing from his stance. "You fight pretty well for a starving slave-boy."
Rusty blinked in confusion and was suddenly struck by his opponent's unusual features. The boy was his age, perhaps a little bit older; but he had shaggy gray hair that fell over his yellow eyes. Yellow eyes? Rusty thought, "Is he sick?"
The gray-haired boy wore frayed leather pants and his chest was bare except for a small cape like garment stitched out of old rabbit skins. He grinned at Rusty as he slid his make-shift wooden knife into the leather sheath that hung at his thigh, "Yup, you fight pretty well."
"I'll fight you again if I have to!" Rusty shouted, ignoring the stinging of his chest wound.
"I'm Gray, by the way," the boy declared, ignoring Rusty's comment. "I'm an apprentice of Thunderclan."
Rusty's eyes flew open in shock. The rumors were true! The warrior clans did exist! Gray's bright yellow eyes suddenly grew suspicious, "What's Badlander like you doing in the forest anyway? Don't you know how dangerous this place is?"
Rusty felt a rush of anger wash over him, "If you're the most dangerous thing this place has to offer, I'm pretty sure I can handle it."
Gray laughed, obviously not at all fazed by Rusty's threat,. He bent down and picked up a twig, spinning it between his fingers as he talked, "You only got off with a scratch cause I don't consider you a threat. You're obviously not a warrior from any of the other Clans
"In fact," Gray continued. "You're lucky I was the one who found you. If you'd come across any Shadowclan warriors…"
He snapped his twig in two, "They would have torn you to shreds."
Rusty narrowed his eyes, but he wasn't intimidated. In fact, he almost admired the blatant confidence that this young boy so easily displayed, "So, you're not a warrior?"
"Nah," Gray shook his head. "This is just my first night out as an apprentice. Why? Did you think I was?"
Rusty didn't have a chance to reply as suddenly Gray stiffened and whirled around, facing the dark forest with fear, "Thunderclan warriors are coming. You'd better leave. Now!"
Rusty strained his ears, but couldn't hear anything. "Go! Now!"
Before Rusty could move, three large figures slipped into the clearing each one glowing with a aura of intensity. The first was a woman. She was tall with long silver hair that reached the middle of her back and shone metallic in the sunlight. Rusty gasped as she met his eyes with her own strikingly sapphire ones. There was a small tattoo of a small blue star directly under her collarbone. Rusty wondered what it meant.
"Bluestar!" Gray gasped, and dropped to his knees kneeling to her, his eyes trained on the ground. Rusty, now understanding the purpose of the tattoo, followed suit.
Another figure stepped forward, his impressive form stunning Rusty even more. He was a broad chested man with blond hair that fell in waves about his shoulders. He had a trimmed golden beard and his remarkable green eyes were creased with smile lines, although his palpable masculinity demanded respect, "What are you doing so near the Badlands, Gray?
Gray gulped, "I-I'm sorry Lionheart. I was hunting."
Rusty remained still and silent next to his cowering friend. These people commanded an awesome amount of power and Rusty could feel it emanating from them.
"Who is this?" The question came from Bluestar, her voice low and lilting. Rusty shivered as her clear blue eyes locked onto him making him feel even more vunerable.
"He's not a threat," Gray said quickly. "I found him wandering around here, lost. He's just a Badland slave boy."
Rusty's skin prickled in anger, just a slave boy? He looked up to see the reactions of the powerfully warriors and he met Bluestar's intense gaze head on. Grey hissed and forced Rusty's head down.
"That's Bluestar; she's leader of Thunderclan. And that's Lionheart, my mentor."
"You fought well for a Badland slave," Bluestar said suddenly. "And you Gray, you're actions were bold."
Gray smiled at Rusty, obviously pleased with Bluestar's praise.
"Get on your feet now, both of you."
Rusty stood and met Bluestar's concentrated gaze calmly as she spoke to him, "You responded bravely to Gray's attack. Gray is much stronger than you and has been studying the ways of the warrior and yet you managed to match his abilities with sheer wit. You turned to face him when he gave chase. I've not seen such courage from a Badlander before."
Rusty blinked in surprise, managing to dip his head courteously. However, Bluestar's next words kept him too astonished to respond at all.
"I've been curious to see how you would fare out here," she gestured to the forest around them. "I've heard the wind whisper your name, Rusty. I've seen, in dreams, how you brave the desert and escape into the forest. I've seen—"
"Bluestar!" Lionheart interrupted, his green eyes narrowing in anger. "You should not be speaking of prophecies in the company of a Badlander. Send him home. This boy will only bring danger to the forest."
"No!" Rusty protested. "I can't go home! I can't go back to being a slave! Please, I'll do anything, I can learn to be one of you."
Lionheart wheeled on him, his fierce green eyes blazing in his hardened face, "You dare assert yourself to such a privelage!"
Rusty shrunk back, glancing at Bluestar for support but she merely stared at him as if trying to peer into his very soul. Rusty dropped his gaze and knelt before the mythical warriors, "I apologize for seeming so presumptuous. I am no threat to your clan,I'm a mere suppliant willing to learn all he can."
There was silence. Rusty chanced a glance upward to see that Bluestar was gazing at him admirably, "You're an unusual young man, Rusty."
Gray gave a sigh of relief, but Rusty was focused on the look that was now passing between Bluestar and Lionheart. With a flick of his head Lionheart beckoned Gray to follow him; and before Rusty could object, the mentor and apprentice disappeared into the bracken. Rusty looked at Bluestar for an answer. She was smiling slightly, "Young Rusty. On behalf of Thunderclan I extend to you an invitation to become one of us. But first, you must prove yourself worthy of the forest…"
And with that, the silver-haired leader melted away into the green of the forest.
Next time: Rusty must face the forest and find the Thunderclan camp is he is to become one of them. But does he have what it takes?